Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Scotland has decided. With an astonishing 84.6% turnout, 55.3% of Scots voted to reject the proposal of independence and the creation of a new Scottish state. Only four of the 32 councils supported Scottish separatism in the plebiscite: Dundee City, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire. The clear majority rejecting an independent Scotland induced Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond to resign:
For me as leader, my time is nearly done. For Scotland, the campaign continues and the dream shall never die.
The debate on Scottish independence formally proceeded in an informed, consensual and democratic manner. However, it is worrying that 46% of unionist voters felt “personally threatened” by the Yes campaign, and 24% of pro-independence voters believed similarly by the No side. Labour MP Jim Murphy, who had planned to visit in 100 cities over 100 days, was pelted with an egg, and “regularly” called a “terrorist” and a “paedophile”. Online debates have seen the march of the Cyber-Nats and the Cyber-Brits. Following the referendum’s end, Yes supporters were assaulted on the streets of Glasgow. In its natural home, the flame of the Enlightenment flickered.
The combative televised debates between First Minister Alex Salmond and Better Together’s Alistair Darling highlighted differences on the currency, the National Health Service (NHS) and other Westminster policies. Panelbase conducted polling around ten days before the referendum. They found that over half of No voters believed it was ‘very likely’ that Scottish independence would mean the Scottish economy would be worse off, taxes would rise, and Scotland could not use the pound sterling. In the event of Scottish separation, 79% of Yes voters thought the main British parties would change their stance and a formal currency union would be negotiated. In four decades, Scottish nationalism has evolved from “It’s Scotland’s oil” to “It’s Scotland’s pound”.
A dominant unionist lead subsided when, after the second televised debate, the Yes campaign claimed that a “No vote means a big threat to our NHS”, buttressed by assertions that “the Westminster Coalition is driving the NHS in England down a road towards a US-style healthcare system”. Given that most US citizens are required to have healthcare insurance or face fines, it is stunning to claim a connection between utilising private companies for healthcare delivery and necessitating the purchase of private insurance. Healthcare is a devolved responsibility in Scotland, and, from 2016, the Scottish executive could have utilised its tax-raising powers to increase its spending on healthcare, if it feared a reduction in the block grant. As the fact-checking organisation Full Fact notes:
There’s no evidence that allowing private companies to provide health services, as has been happening in England in recent decades, affects spending or the block grant.
Malcolm Chrisholm, a former health minister in the Scottish executive, called the Yes campaign’s claim on the NHS “the biggest political lie of all my years in politics”.
Another false idea was the Conservative and Unionist Party supporters wanted Scotland to leave, presumably out of political petulance. On the BBC’s referendum coverage, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee said “half of Conservatives” would like Scottish independence. The reality is that, both in Scotland and the rest of the UK, Conservative supporters show a stronger preference for continuing the British union than any other major party. In YouGov’s poll of Scotland, 96% of Conservatives were voting No.
The conclusive referendum will ripple throughout the United Kingdom. Two of the staunchest No votes came from the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands, which both have movements to divorce from Scotland. Given the dedication towards separation within the Scottish National Party, the party will now be listless and despondent without the unifying inspiration and leadership of Alex Salmond. The SNP will have to rediscover its energy under Nicola Sturgeon, its current deputy leader, or another successor.
In the last flurries of the referendum, the three main British parties accentuated that the No vote would not be for the status quo. ‘The Vow’ in the Daily Record, signed by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, read:
People want to see change. A No vote will deliver faster, safer and better change than separation.
Following the referendum, the Prime Minister promised “fair” and “balanced settlement” for the whole of the UK, seeking to correct current constitutional asymmetries:
We have heard the voice of Scotland – and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard. The question of English votes for English laws – the so-called West Lothian question – requires a decisive answer.
In the present constitution, England remains without devolution. There are no easy answers. Providing a parliament for 53 million people will incur similar problems to governing 64 million people, whilst duplicating the civil service and politicians. Devolving vast legal powers to counties or local councils will dissolve England.
Scotland has decided, and Britain prevails.